Some time ago, I asked a Technology Director in Texas the following:
If you had to give advice to a novice technology director, what advice would that be?
I’ve reflected on some of the work I’ve been involved with recently, and have embedded some examples in the responses. I don’t mean to pretend to be an expert…I have a lot to learn, but you learn lessons along the way that give deeper meaning to what you’ve “learned” before. That’s the value of reflection.
“Never tell people how to do things. Instead, collaborate on a plan about what to do, and empower them to be creative, autonomous, and encourage everyone to hold you, each team member, accountable. And, most importantly, be kind to one another.” -Miguel Guhlin ;-)
Although Dr. Joy Rousseau (Arp ISD) had always inspired me with her responses to questions shared on a state-wide list of technology directors, I was blown away by her response to my request for advice. To flesh out some of her advice, I’ve included some quick bullets — not enough since I’ve been sitting on this list for a bit too long in my inbox — under each of her points but you might visit this page for more neat stuff.
1. Form a fantastic IT team — hire folks with integrity and a fabulous work ethic who WANT to serve others. Make sure you create an atmosphere that includes a great working environment where folks want to remain over long periods of time. Include perks like the latest desktop computers, mobile devices, and supporting software. Keep the perks coming. A trivial amount of your budget can make your IT Team feel appreciated and important. Not having these folks can be a real challenge, so be sure to have support to make changes when beginning a CTO position, setting clear expectations…if you don’t do it at once, you may not have the chance again!
- One example of this is providing iPads and/or Android tablets to facilitate work, cabling tools.
- The latest Adobe or Filemaker Pro database software are some of the perks my team have gotten, which has paid off in high quality work.
2. Form a fantastic stakeholder team — include board members, parents, students, teachers, administrators, and higher ed to help you build a vision. Reaching out to parents and community is important and I’m hoping to do more of that soon with partnerships with the district community liason. The needs are different but one of my favorite examples is self-paced online learning opportunities for parents (check it out) available at no cost to the community. Face to face learning remains important and I hope to branch out and do more of that.
3. Use observations and surveys to get a feel for what the status quo is and then form a collaborative vision of where you need to be.
- 3 Stars and a Wish is a great approach to accomplishing this that colleague Jean Tower shared with me. This is more of a face to face conversation starter but you could conduct it as a survey. More on that in another blog entry.
- Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI) is a free, reliable and valid instrument to use.
- Get Ed and Polly Gifford to assess your network.
- Conduct surveys, and Joy has quite a few listed online here as examples.
4. Make public reports and board reports on status quo and vision (send home Newsletters, create a News Twitter account, build a Web presence, conduct parent/student/teacher workshops). I love this piece of advice and if you have ever seen Frankie Jackson’s web site, that is an inspiration for the kind of web site every CTO needs. That’s why I built this web site, focused on strategic planning, to facilitate knowledge management.
5. Plan for more PD than you ever dreamed of. Make sure your IT team is capable of also handling training sessions. Solutions like Test Out are great to help technicians get certified, but don’t be afraid to pursue your own certification solutions like CoSN’s CETL as well as help your district get going with solutions like SafeSchools. TCEA also enjoys certification areas.
6. Establish Mentors in your district through excessive training sessions and stipends to help support your vision.
7. Create and submit to your board, policies that support your vision. This, of course, depends on initiatives and projects that your district leadership will support. I’m grateful in my own role to have had the opportunity to submit $2.4 million in projects in 3 years of work. It’s a team effort, but you can start projects off with Executive Summaries and then build from there!
8. Include student trainees to assist teachers on demand in the classroom. Certify them for specific jobs and restrict them from performing tasks that they are not certified to do. One great example was shared by colleague Mark Gabehart — he helped get a SWAT Team Members — Students Working to Advance Technology started.
9. Propose a budget that includes a significant district buy-in for technology upgrades, planning, implementation and evaluation. Some ideas for that include equipment replacement plans, as well as Multi-Year Equipment Replacement Plans for every aspect of tech at the campus, district, network infrastructure level.
10. Evaluate all services that you provide on a continual basis and modify or trim them as needed. This is an important one…I keep a list of metrics and try to update those periodically.
11. Be your own PR agent. No one knows what you do or how much you work unless you clue them in on everything. Keep a close communication channel open with your faculty, administrators, board, and community. One neat example is sharing information via social media (e.g. Twitter), as well as eNewsletters that embed video (use GoogleSlides or LucidPress to embed video/audio!).
12. Realize that everything takes time, be patient, flexible, and a good listener. As I look back over my short stint as a Director of Technology Operations, as well as my previous 9 years as an instructional tech director, the one thing I wish for was the skill at developing relationships quickly. Instead, I’ve found that relationships take a LONG time to build…and that you’re having to overcome biases and attitudes that you have no control over. Instead, you have to remain unfailingly positive in the face of negativity until people realize, “Yes, I CAN trust you!” It is a hard journey but the reward is great! Wow, a 12-step process for CTOs. Lots of work to do here!